The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board announced today that the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock will remain at three minutes to midnight for 2016.
The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies in the life sciences. Since its creation in 1947, the Doomsday Clock has been adjusted only 21 times, ranging from two minutes before midnight in 1953 to 17 minutes before midnight in 1991. The decision about the time reflected on the Doomsday Clock is made by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board in conjunction with the Board of Sponsors, which includes 16 Nobel Laureates. The hands of the Doomsday Clock were moved to three minutes before midnight on January 22, 2015, marking the direst setting of the Clock since 1983, at the height of the Cold War.
While recognizing the important progress represented by the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord, the Bulletin cautions that these positive steps have been offset in large part by foreboding developments.
The Bulletin statement said: “Even as the Iran agreement was hammered out, tensions between the United States and Russia rose to levels reminiscent of the worst periods of the Cold War. Conflict in Ukraine and Syria continued, accompanied by dangerous bluster and brinkmanship, with Turkey, a NATO member, shooting down a Russian warplane involved in Syria, the director of a state-run Russian news agency making statements about turning the United States to radioactive ash, and NATO and Russia repositioning military assets and conducting significant exercises with them. Washington and Moscow continue to adhere to most existing nuclear arms control agreements, but the United States, Russia, and other nuclear weapons countries are engaged in programs to modernize their nuclear arsenals, suggesting that they plan to keep and maintain the readiness of their nuclear weapons for decades, at least — despite their pledges, codified in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to pursue nuclear disarmament.”
On the climate front, the Bulletin statement pointed out: “Promising though it may be, the Paris climate agreement came toward the end of Earth’s warmest year on record, with the increase in global temperature over pre-industrial levels surpassing one degree Celsius.”
Other positive climate developments cited in the statement include the Papal encyclical related to climate change, the movement among investors toward divestment of fossil fuels, new advances in sustainable in energy systems, more climate friendly governments in Canada and Australia. However, the statement cautions that even these developments must be seen “against the steady backtracking of the United Kingdom’s present government on climate policies and the continued intransigence of the Republican Party in the United States, which stands alone in the world in failing to acknowledge even that human-caused climate change is a problem.”
What steps need to be taken? The Bulletin statement accompanying the Doomsday Cock announcement identifies the following as the most urgently needed:
* Dramatically reduce proposed spending on nuclear weapons modernization programs.
* Re-energize the disarmament process, with a focus on results.
* Engage North Korea to reduce nuclear risks.
* Follow up on the Paris accord with actions that sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fulfill the Paris promise of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius.
* Deal now with the commercial nuclear waste problem.
* Create institutions specifically assigned to explore and address potentially catastrophic misuses of new technologies.
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